Islamic Revolution: a model for political and social change

Developing Just Leadership

Zafar Bangash

Rabi' al-Thani 03, 1427 2006-05-01

Islamic Movement

by Zafar Bangash (Islamic Movement, Crescent International Vol. 35, No. 3, Rabi' al-Thani, 1427)

The second paper at the ICIT’s Kalim Siddiqui Memorial Conference on April 23 was given by ICIT Director ZAFAR BANGASH, on a theme central to Dr Kalim’s understanding of the task facing the Islamic movement: the revolutionary method of change for Islamic societies.

Human behaviour is conditioned by history, historical events, shared experiences but above all by memory. Thus people who have had very similar experiences will not necessarily respond to a particular situation in exactly the same way. Both the Native peoples of North America and the Palestinians, for instance, have undergone similar historical experiences at the hands of European colonialists, but they perceive their future in very different ways. This emanates essentially from their historical heritage as well as their memory.

For Muslims, the Qur'an and the Prophet's Seerah and Sunnah form the basis for behaviour. In the Qur'an Allah subhanahu wa ta‘ala has emphasized the importance of establishing Allah's power and authority on earth (9:33, 12:40, 48:28, 61:9) as well as obedience to the Prophet (4:59; 4:80). Similarly, the principle of consultation has been clearly laid down (3:159, 42:38). The Prophet (saw) himself established the first Islamic State in Madinah more than 1,400 years ago. He was succeeded by the khulafa' ar-rashidoon (the rightly-guided caliphs), who continued in his footsteps before the khilafah was subverted into mulukiyya (hereditary kingship). Even in that corrupted form the khilafah was able to give the world a civilization that lasted for more than a thousand years.

When the khilafah was formally abolished in March 1924, the Muslims reacted immediately to this loss because of the centrality of the Islamic State to the civilizational goals of Islam. Three broad responses can be identified in the Muslims' quest to re-establish the Islamic State: emergence of the Ikhwan al-Muslimoon in Egypt in 1928, followed by the Jama‘at-e Islami inBritish India in 1941. Then came the Islamic Revolution in Iran, whose contemporary roots can be traced to Imam Khomeini's pioneering book, Hukumat-e Islami (“Islamic Government”), which was first published in 1971. There are other groups as well, but they are generally regarded as inspired by these first three.

The first two have made little headway despite having been in existence for much longer; only in Iran has the Islamic movement succeeded in overthrowing the imposed order. We need to understand the reasons for the failures of the first two, for the success of the last, and what lessons that offers to the global Islamic movement.

The Islamic Revolution, which the late Dr Kalim Siddiqui used to call the only ray of light in a sea of darkness, cannot be fully appreciated without a brief overview of the condition of Muslims today. It is clear that the Muslim world has strayed far from the example set by the Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace. Muslims are under attack by the forces of kufr and are being killed in the hundreds of thousands all over the world, yet they are the ones who are branded as terrorists. Despite this grim reality, there is some hope. The shrill propaganda campaign against Islamic Iran, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestine and the Hizbullah in Lebanon is proof that the West fears the growing self-assertion of Muslims and the power of Islam.

The issue of legitimacy of authority has exercised Muslim minds since the khilafah was subverted into mulukiyya. The khulafa' ar-rashidoon had established baya‘— allegiance of the people—to legitimize their authority; during mulukiyya the ruler's writ was imposed by force and leadership became a family affair. There was another, equally important requirement that was abandoned during mulukiyya: comprehensive knowledge of Islamic law and jurisprudence by the rulers. The khulafa' ar-rashidoon were well-versed in these and were also generally competent leaders and administrators.

With mulukiyya there occurred a split between the ulama (scholars) and the rulers. Knowledge of Islamic principles was no longer considered a prerequisite even if the ruler insisted on being called a khalifah. Those scholars who questioned the rulers' legitimacy paid a heavy price. When the de facto separation of State and deen became entrenched, it led to the emergence of a class of ulama who provided this separation with religious and political support by prohibiting rebellion against the ruler, regardless of how he had come to power, arguing that rebellion would result in the greater fitna of turmoil and disruption in society. A number of scholars, among them al-Mawardi, Ibn Taimiyya and Ibn Jamaah, advanced this argument. Even Imam Ghazali lent his immense intellectual weight to it.

Shawkah (glory and prestige) and quwah (power) became determining factors in accepting a ruler. This opened the door for ambitious generals, who at first determined who should rule and later assumed power themselves. If there is a plethora of generals ruling the Muslim world today, there is precedence for such conduct in Muslim history, although it would be wrong to stretch this analogy too far. In the past, Muslim commanders won battles against overwhelming odds and Muslim empires continued to expand despite deviation from Islamic principles at the centre; while the modern-day generals have lost every battle against their enemies. The only success they can point to is the conquest of their own hapless peoples.

The Umayyad dynasty, which created the first breach in Muslim political order, lasted 90 years; their successors, the Abbasids, lasted theoretically for 500 years (750-1258 CE) but only for the first 200 years or so did they actually exercise effective authority. Thereafter, generals and sultans became the real wielders of political power. This state of affairs ended when the Mongolian warrior, Halaku Khan, destroyed the Abbasid khilafah in 1258 CE. The Abbasid rulers' plight can be gauged from one episode in Islamic history: during the Crusaders' siege ofJerusalem in 1099 CE, Muslim appeals for help went unheeded. If the ruler had little or no power and authority in Baghdad how could he assist people in Palestine?

With the weakening of central authority in Baghdad, a number of autonomous empires emerged. Rulers in the lands surrounding Palestine—Egypt, Syria and so on—had aligned themselves with the Crusaders, a situation not dissimilar to the zionist invaders of Palestine today. We must also note that Salahuddin Ayyubi, who liberated al-Quds in 1187, was not an Arab but a Kurd, and he had to deal with the Muslim rulers surrounding Palestine before he evicted the Crusaders from al-Quds.

After the Abbasids, the Turks came to dominate the political landscape, but by then Europe had emerged from its Dark Ages and colonialism was on the march in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Europe made progress by throwing off the yoke of Church repression with its inquisitions, witch-burnings and other barbaric practices; Muslims became weak for exactly the opposite reason: by abandoning the principles of Islam that had brought them to power and glory in the first place. After all, the tribes of Arabia had been little more than savages before Islam—a jahiliyya, in the language of the Qur'an.

When the European colonialists arrived in Muslim lands, they faced only limited, localized resistance that they easily overcame. Then they embarked upon a wholesale demolition of Islamic institutions; from political structures, however weak, to economic, social and judicial systems as well as institutions of learning and administration, all were abolished and replaced by Western models. Muslim languages faced a similar fate. Economic survival forced many Muslims to acquire Western languages and adopt Western culture because these enhanced employment opportunities under colonial rule.

Muslim resistance to colonialism had limited success. The Sokoto Khilafat of Uthman Dan Fodio in West Africa lasted nearly a century (the nineteenth), but other attempts by Shaikh Abdul Qadir al-Jazairi in Algeria and Imams Muhammad and Shamil in the Caucasus, for instance, were less successful and could not withstand the colonialist onslaught. The struggle inChechnya continues to this day.

Under colonialism a new class of Muslims emerged: Muslims with a colonial mindset. These people led nationalist movements and became ‘fathers' of nations. When the colonialists finally departed they left behind these Westernized elites to continue to implement the European agenda. The Muslim world was divided into nation-states, with each guarding its own “national interest”, abandoning the Qur'anic concept of the Muslim Ummah.

The poison of nationalism had sunk so deep into the psyche of the Muslim elites that in the early part of the last century the Arabs actually believed that the British had come to liberate them from Turkish colonialism. For the Arab elites, Western colonialism of the kafirs was preferable to Turkish rule of Muslims. Mustafa Kemal, the nationalist leader of Turkey, drove the last nail in the coffin of the body politic of Islam when he abolished the khilafah in 1924.

There are 57 or so Muslim nation-states today, but their claim to independence is fraudulent. They cannot survive without the political, economic and military patronage and protection of the West. There is a deep divide between the Muslim masses and their rulers. Muslim national armies have faced successive defeats at the hands of their enemies; two examples are the debacles of the June 1967 war between the Arabs and Israel, and in December 1971 between India and Pakistan, leading to the breakup of Pakistan.

Long before Francis Fukuyama came up with the “end of history” hypothesis, the West had written off Islam as a spent force, much like Christianity. It assumed that the weakness of the Muslim elites reflected Islam's lack of power. When the Islamic Revolution occurred, it took everyone by surprise. The reason for this was that Imam Khomeini was not the product of Western education; he had emerged from the roots of Islam. He relied on Allah and the support of his Muslim people.

The Islamic Revolution was not merely another palace reshuffle; nor was it based on the use of indiscriminate violence to bring down the established order, as was attempted in Egypt in the eighties and nineties, and in Algeria between 1992 and 1996, with tragic results in both places. Resistance to the Shah's regime led to its paralysis and the rivers of blood offered by Muslim men and women forced the rank and file in the military to rebel against their officers, the pillars of the imposed order, who had unleashed a 25-year reign of terror with the active backing of the US.

Other Islamic groups, including the Ikhwan in Egypt and the Jama‘at in Pakistan, have failed to understand that the military, despite being led by Muslim officers, remains a colonial institution and acts to defend the status quo. These groups also mistakenly believe that elections held under the imposed secular system will enable them to come to power to implement Islam “from the top”, without defeating or dismantling the existing illegitimate system. They have paid a heavy price for such faulty thinking.

No such confusion existed in Imam Khomeini's mind, although there were elements in the movement in Iran that harboured such illusions. Once the Revolution succeeded, Imam Khomeini proceeded to demolish such pillars of the old order as the officer class of the armed forces, the educational system and a host of others, but unfortunately not the bureaucracy, as Dr Kalim often lamented. The old bureaucracy has caused many problems for ordinary Iranians, which have been compounded by the inexperience and incompetence of new recruits into the system.

New institutions emerged in place of the old: the Sepah-e Pasdaran-e Inqilab-e Islami (the Islamic Revolutionary Guards), the Baseej (Volunteer Force) and Jihad-e Sazindagi (Jihad for Reconstruction). Without them, the Revolution might not have survived the assault from within by the munafiqeen, and the external aggression of the West and its Arab client regimes that was launched through Ba‘athist Iraq. The imposed war lasted eight years (1980–88), and the Islamic State and its people defended the Revolution without any help from anyone else. This is a remarkable achievement by any standard. No Muslim country has shown such resilience against external aggression; the armies of Muslim nation-states have survived between six and seventeen days before surrendering en masse to the enemy.

The first Islamic State in Madinah also experienced the onslaught of kufr: the mushrikeen of Makkah repeatedly attacked the Islamic State, but the Muslims beat back the assaults and ultimately overpowered their enemies. One of the hallmarks of an Islamic State is that it is capable of defending itself through its own resources, by mobilizing its own people. This, however, is possible only if they have confidence in the leadership, who must be muttaqi and learned to earn that trust and confidence.

No Arab army or a combination of armies fighting under the banner of nationalism has ever defeated the zionists, but a handful of Hizbullah fighters armed with light weapons and iman inflicted a crushing defeat on the zionist invaders and drove them of southern Lebanon. The secular PLO has all but abandoned the fight against the zionist occupiers of Palestine, but Hamas and Islamic Jihad continue the struggle under difficult circumstances. Islamic Iran's achievements become even more impressive when another fact is taken into account: at the end of the eight-year war, Iran had no external debt. This achievement has no parallel in contemporary history: at the end of the second world war, Britain had a debt of $55 billion; theUS today, bogged down in the Iraqi quagmire, has incurred $8 trillion in external debt and another $35 trillion in internal debt.

The Islamic Revolution did not merely overthrow the political system; it also ushered in social transformation in society on the pattern of the Prophet's Islamic State. An Islamic system transforms individuals within the overall framework of taqwa that manifests itself through their sacrifices. During the war, young men and women made enormous sacrifices to defend the Revolution. The Shah had taken Iran down the path of Westernization and moral corruption; the Islamic Revolution reversed that trend and inspired people to rediscover the values of Islam. One of the most remarkable achievements has been the rehabilitation of women widowed during the war. Imam Khomeini advised them to remarry; he also called upon the young men to come forward to marry these noble daughters of the Revolution. Soon there were no war widows left in Iran.

A common allegation leveled against Muslims is that they oppress their women; the modest dress of Muslim sisters is cited as proof. In the West freedom is equated with promiscuity and immorality; under the guise of liberation, Muslim women are told to adopt Western values and culture. The Shah had taken Iran far down that road, but the Revolution brought it to an end. The taqwa that enveloped Iranian society as a result of the Revolution revived Islamic values, and both men and women rediscovered their Islamic obligations. Apart from a small coterie of Westernized elites, Muslim societies have never lost their attachment to such Islamic values.

There are other yardsticks as well that can be used to assess Iran's progress. For instance, during the Shah's time, despite much talk about the progress women were supposed to have made, their literacy rate was a mere 17 percent; today, this has gone up to 66 percent. In some university faculties—medicine and education, for instance—the number of female students is higher than males by a margin of 54 to 46 percent. There are 108 women editors of newspapers and magazines in Islamic Iran today. The point that needs emphasizing is that the West's values are not universal, and that Muslims must reject its patronizing attitudes that denigrate Islamic values. By covering her hair, a woman does not switch off her brain; nor is she oppressed when she dons modest dress in conformity with Allah's command to insist that her body is not available for every passing stranger.

Muslims today face internal challenges as well. Some Muslims are so obsessed with their particular fiqhi position that they are unable to appreciate an alternative perspective. This is especially true with some Muslims' understanding of the Islamic Revolution, which they label as “Shi‘a”; one wonders what the Muslims in a Sunni-majority country will do once they overthrow the existing order there. Based on such thinking it is not difficult to imagine that, were Imam Mahdi to appear today, these Muslims would insist that he must adopt their particular fiqh before they would follow him! It is this kind of narrow-mindedness that has diverted the Muslims' energies into irrelevant and fruitless pursuits.

The mass of ordinary Muslims, however, do not fall into this category. They admire the Islamic State of Iran and the courageous stand of its leadership on many issues. By standing up to the US, unlike the rulers of the Muslim nation-states, the leadership in Iran has boosted the confidence of Muslims worldwide. This is most clearly evident in the current stand-off overIran's right to enrich uranium under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). There is a carefully orchestrated propaganda campaign under way, with deliberate leaks about US plans to attack Iran with nuclear weapons to destroy its nuclear facilities. Far from caving in to such threats, Islamic Iran has held its ground.

The US's hypocrisy is obvious, but almost no one except Iran has the courage to point it out. Washington threatens to use nuclear weapons to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities because of allegations that it might make nuclear weapons! Use of nuclear weapons by the US is all right, but even the acquisition of nuclear technology for “peaceful purposes” (in this case the generation of electricity) by Iran is not. The US's threats are made at a time when it has signed an agreement to provide India, which is not signatory of NPT, with nuclear fuel while Islamic Iran—a signatory—is being denied its rights under the treaty! These inconsistencies and hypocrisies of the US destroy what little credibility its position ever had.

One must ask how Iran is able to stand up for its rights when other Muslim rulers cave in so easily to US threats. The answer lies in the fact that Iran is an Islamic State that has the support of its people, while the other regimes are subservient to and exist at the pleasure of the US. Only an Islamic State can inspire its people to confront any challenge to its existence. Iran today is not beholden to any power for its economic or political survival, the frequent obituaries written by Western orientalists for political Islam notwithstanding.

Muslims elsewhere need to emulate the example of the Islamic Revolution to bring about similar changes in their societies. This is the only way forward available to us.

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